Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Interview with Peter Olotka (Cosmic Encounter, Dune)

This isn't my standard fare, but seeing as how BoBG is lagging a bit right now, I thought I'd change things up with an interview.  Please welcome Peter Olotka to the BoBG world.

D: You’re probably best known for Cosmic Encounter, both the board game and the online site, what else have you worked on game wise?
P: Well, with our company Eon Products we designed: HOAX, QUiRKS, RUNES, BORDERLANDS, DARKOVER. We also designed DUNE for Avalon Hill. In my archives there are probably a few dozen un published board games. Over my entire career, board games are a small fraction of the design work. see
D: Here’s a question about origins from reader Chrissa M.  What made you want to design a board game in the first place, and then can you describe the process of how Cosmic Encounter came to be? 
P: We wanted a science fiction game because we couldn't find any in 1971. Science Fiction has no restrictions. Crafting underlying principles are an important place for the designer to start. I mean, really start here. Draw up a list of principles to follow and /or elements for your game to have. Then design with them in mind. Here were ours:
  • No dice allowed
  • Everyone had to be different
  • Play would offer compromise and conflict
  • No one would be eliminated 
  • Players could win together
  • Each game would be different (re-playability)
  • License to cheat. Pretty much all players in all games would just love to be able to peek. Just a little. Woot! Almost all the early Cosmic aliens were hatched from a player wishing “If only …”
  • I could see what she has (Mind)
  • I could get a do-over (Chronos)
  • I could get rid of this junk (Philanthropist)
  • I couldn't die (Zombie)

I think it can be profoundly liberating to make a list of things you want your game to be and to not be and then stick to them. Think about your likes and dislikes in the games you've played and then try to settle on what you want your game to feel like.
D: That's a great help for aspiring game designers such as myself. I think that so often people get overwhelmed by what could be in a game that they try to do too much. I feel that a lot of the basics in Cosmic make it easy to learn, but that variety leaves room for so much depth.  
Why do you think that Cosmic is stilled played today, and is perhaps more popular than it ever was?
P: The alien(s) are really controlling us all and they think it's necessary for the Human race to mature before we can be let off the planet.
D: I have to ask this, what is your favorite alien power and why?
P: Philanthropist, because it can control the deck by giving away it's junk, getting a new hand, keeping others from getting new hands, and it can give an ally a winning card, give a player an artifact to that players advantage and no one ever zaps it. After all its just giving away stuff. How scary is that?
D: I think it is often the seemingly innocent powers that give players the most room to work. Everyone will try to stop Virus, Warpish, even something like Pacifist, but background powers like Philanthropist, Chosen, Xenophile, and Observer kinda go unnoticed. It's a very interesting dimension that power variety brings to the game.  
I think the power of the Philanthropist is something many players overlook. Still to this day, my original play group who has had the Eon edition since 1977 will see that someone has Philanthropist and say "I'm sorry." I sit there and smile when it's me because I know I have control over my hand.  
Following up on that idea: This comes to us from Nick M.   Was a core mechanic always going to be hand management the way it is now, or has it come a long way from its initial design?  To clarify, what Nick is talking about is the progression in learning Cosmic.  Many new players fixate on the powers that they neglect the core of the game.  Then at some point people seem to learn that the game focuses on hand management.
P: Hand management was there at the start since there were aliens that won low, won with compromise (now negotiates), took the other players used card (filch) kept its own Clone. On and on.
D: This comes to us from reader Roger S. Did you ever intend the game to be played with multiple powers per player? 
P: Yes we suggested multiple powers in the Eon editions. But I think the idea was generated by players at cons. I have seen players play 5 aliens at a time.
D: Wow! I often played with three powers in the Eon set, now two with FFG. I could see a 5 power game once in awhile, but not as a steady diet.  I think that speaks to the variety in Cosmic. Players have so many different things to add in to make it their own. In the Eon edition you had Lucre and Moons, in FFG you have Tech, Defender Rewards, Hazards, and Team Play. That's not even scratching the surface of fan developed content. 
Did you and your design team ever imagine that Cosmic would grow in the multitude of ways that it has?
P: I don't think we foresaw where it was going. But I do know that once we decided that it could have more than 6 aliens (the original prototype) we felt that it was unlimited. It did, however take us three years to realize the expansed alien potential. More expansions can be developed as long as there is demand. With the current Fan Expansion that players are working on in Facebook,, we are trying to design content that pushes the cosmic envelope as much as possible.

D: I’ve been involved as a cross-checker for the fan expansion.  If anyone has ideas they’d like to contribute, feel free to stop by and help out.

Peter, thank you so much for your time and great responses. It was a true pleasure talking Cosmic Encounter and games in general with you.

No comments:

Post a Comment